Feeling anxious? You’re not alone.


A billboard by British artist David Shrigley, displayed in New York City earlier this year:

The commissioner of this piece described it as “a reminder of our fears, insecurities, and paranoia, which are so familiar to our contemporary society.” I take it as a reminder that when I feel alienated and alone, I’m not alone in those feelings. There’s something humorous and comforting about a billboard broadcasting what most of us try really hard to keep hidden.

If you could put a thought bubble on a billboard to help people feel a little less alone, I wonder what it would say.

(Click on the picture above for larger version that’s easier to read.)

–Tommy Grimm

(Initially discovered on Daniel Smith’s blog.)

Lessons from the Blue Zones Project


I recently celebrated my grandmother’s 88th birthday with my family.  Granny’s mantra for the weekend was “I never thought I’d live this long.”  She shared about two friends of hers that are 100 and 102.  “Now that’s just plain old,” she said.

In the United States, those ‘old folks’ are members of the fastest growing segment of the American population.  Thanks to advances in modern medicine, Americans are living longer lives.  In 1924, the year when Granny was born, the life expectancy for an American female was 65.1 years.  In 2007, it was 80.8.

One out of every 5,000 Americans will reach 100 years of age, according to National Geographic writer and explorer Dan Buettner.  But in a 2009 TED talk, he shares that there are pockets of the world that have a significantly higher concentration of centurions.  A Danish study of twins suggests that the length of a person’s life is 1/10 determined by genetics — the rest is attributed to lifestyle.  So what is it about the culture and lifestyle of Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Ikaria, Greece that makes living there so conducive to long life?

That’s exactly what the Blue Zones Project aims to find out.  When National Geographic teamed up with Buettner and longevity researchers, they found that cultures that can boast high concentrations of centurions also emphasize:

  • Pleasure in physical activity.  Movement is incorporated into daily routines, with individuals relying less  on energy-saving technology and placing greater emphasis on enjoying nature walks or gardening.
  • Time to downshift, to de-stress, and to unwind.  Slowing down helps to counteract the inflammatory physiological response to stress that builds up over time.
  • A sense of purpose in life.  These communities have extensive vocabularies for life purpose.  Members actively pursue this ‘reason for being’ and support others in doing likewise.
  • A conscious approach to eating. Many diets are plant-heavy and alcohol-light. Overeating is rare.
  • A sense of connection in community.  This may be the result of prioritizing cross-generational care, having consistent faith practices, and being surrounded by people with like-minded approaches to health and quality of life.

What amazes me about this work is how over thousands of years of cultural history, populations in different pockets of the world have adopted similar practices that consistently promote long, happy lives. I wonder how these practices reflect living into calls of life in ministry and discipleship, into the belief that we are made in the image of God.

We may not all want to live until we are 100 years old (Granny reminds me sometimes that she does not!), but we still can appreciate and learn from those that do.

What steps are you taking toward achieving a long and healthy life?

Catherine Wilson

(Image via Flickr user *jos*/via Creative Commons)

A ‘Thrival Kit’ for Clergy Families


Being part of a clergy family comes with a unique set of joys and challenges.

While we’ve heard that many clergy spouses feel a unity of purpose with their husband or wife, identify with their spouse’s work, and experience their own calling from God, they also face feelings of isolation, high expectations from congregants, a lack of barriers and sacredness of family time, and ambiguity of their role and identity.

Being a preacher’s kid isn’t easy either. They too are under a great deal of pressure to be “perfect” and must learn to accept the long and often hectic hours that their parent works.

That’s all a lot to manage, and resources on how to do it well are scarce.  But one that is particularly well done is the Florida Conference’s Thrival Kit.

The Thrival Kit is a kind of survival guide on how to thrive as a pastor (single or married), clergy spouse, or family in the United Methodist Church. It offers a wealth of useful resources, information, and commentary on topics such as:

  • The appointment system
  • Family dynamics and the ministry
  • Moving
  • Wellness and wholeness
  • Where to turn for help
  • Finances
  • Pensions and benefits
  • Where to find other useful resources

One aspect of the Thrival Kit that I find to be unique and especially helpful is the inclusion of stories and insightful advice from actual pastors and spouses.  For example, on her list of “Survival Tips from Our House,” one pastor writes, “We are not supposed to save the world—Jesus already did that. Pray, rest, play, and enjoy each other. Ministry is an important part of your life and your identity—but it is not everything.”

A common theme in the Thrival Kit is an emphasis on the importance of self-care and balance, both personally and professionally.

In the section on wellness and wholeness, the authors write that balancing our spiritual, emotional, and physical health, “offers an opportunity for us to receive and experience all the goodness, which our Lord wants for us.”

They offer suggestions on ways for readers to pursue this delicate balance by providing information on resources that can help: low-cost vacation and retreat options for individuals, families, children, or couples (some of which are in or near North Carolina); continuing education; counseling for children, clergy, spouses, or couples who plan to divorce; health initiatives; and more.

While the Thrival Kit was put together by the Florida Conference, most of its content is relevant and helpful for all clergy families regardless of their denomination or location. I strongly recommend taking even a few minutes to skim through the pages of this guide. I think you will find it a pleasurable and enlightening read. Enjoy!

Clergy depression: carrying it all, burying it all


Do you have “the blues” or sometimes describe your mood as “just feeling a little down in the dumps”? Life is full of tragedies and triumphs, so these feelings are perfectly normal. However, clergy stressors can make “the blues” constantly recur or outright linger for weeks, months or years. Common clergy stressors can include moving; family or financial strain; difficult church members; overloaded, unpredictable work schedules; social isolation; self-doubt and self-criticism.

These stressors can not only lead to physical health issues but depression. Depression can present itself through poor sleep, low energy, thinking about suicide or extreme mood swings, excessive anger or hostility or feelings of worthlessness. Dr. Chuck DeGroat, vice president of Newbigin House of Studies, states that pastors “often devote themselves to working harder and succeeding more, all in an effort to cast out their demons of depression and despair.” In other words, DeGroat finds that pastors commonly welcome overloaded schedules as a way to deflect from their own feelings.

We often disguise, ignore and/or bury those feelings. We are supposed to balance everything alone and flawlessly. We grapple with expectations for a pastor to only be viewed as highly energetic, emotionally present, engaging and available 24 hours a day. We dread the consequences of not answering a phone call. We believe or are told that the church would collapse if we are not available. We lament/question our call to ministry.

There is, however, some very good news! You are never as alone as you feel, and there is help available. Support for depression can be found through talk therapy, through a variety of prescribed medications, or a combination of both.

WebMD asks the somewhat surprising question, Could You Be Depressed and Not Know It?  However, we often don’t recognize the symptoms that we’re having as being depression.  Sometimes people think, “I’m not suicidal, so I must not really be depressed.”  Again, a range of symptoms is normal, and it’s rare for a person to experience all the symptoms of depression at once.

Depression is NOT a sign of weakness. There is great strength in the pursuit of support and/or treatment.

Below are some other helpful resources:

  • A short self-assessment tool can be found on the Mayo Clinic site.
  • Find someone to talk to at Professional Online Counseling or Professional Online Pastoral & Religious Counseling
  • PastorBurnout.com provides support and information around the burnout that pastors feel during their journey through ministry.
  • Clergy Recovery Network is a non-denominational ministry that provides support for clergy dealing with issues ranging from clergy burnout to church conflict.
  • Pastor Swap gives pastors (and their families) an opportunity to swap homes and churches for the duration of a vacation or sabbatical. The ‘swaps’ can be domestic, international and/or interdenominational.
  • Christo Ministries provides counseling, consulting, and support services to clergy and their families, other church professionals, and congregations. One of their goals is to help congregations eliminate unnecessary conflict and dysfunctional leadership in a way that’s supportive of pastors.